The dedicated seven- to 11-year-old pupils from Rousay Community School have been visiting the Pickie Centre in Kirkwall to take part in the national Learn to Swim programme – a partnership between Scottish Swimming and Scottish Water which is delivered by aquatic providers across Scotland.
The Pickaquoy Centre is one of two swimming lesson providers in Orkney working alongside Orkney Islands Council to help children on the island become safe, confident and competent in and around water.
The school initiative with Rousay school and The Pickie is completed in seven week blocks and was introduced a few years ago to give all pupils access to swimming lessons and to improve their water safety.
The pupils take a five-minute bus journey to board the Eynhallow ferry as foot passengers, before travelling 25 minutes to Tingwall . Once docked, the group takes a further 25 minute bus ride, all accompanied by Headteacher, Katie Lucas.
“As we don’t have a pool on Rousay, to ensure pupils don’t miss out on learning the vital skill of swimming, we take a ferry to the nearest pool in Kirkwall.
“The seven-week block takes place during months when the weather tends to be better – however we still experience transport challenges, especially when trying to keep the group of youngsters to a tight schedule.
“This year, 13 pupils went through the Learn to Swim programme. There was a real mix of abilities, some pupils were able to swim, others were complete beginners, whist a few had never visited the Pickaquoy before and rarely leave the island.
“Learning to swim is such an important skill and we want to equip our pupils to be safe in and around water. It is an added bonus that learning to swim brings a lot of other benefits too, such as improving a child’s physical and mental wellbeing.
“Swimming lessons have been offered at the school for a number of years but had to unfortunately pause during the pandemic. This is the first year we have been able to resume and it has been very well received by both the pupils and wider community.”
The Learn to Swim programme has more than 500 youngsters taking part at The Pickaquoy Centre on a weekly basis.
Calvin Reid, Operations Manager at The Pickaquoy Centre Trust, said:
“It is so important to learn how to swim, especially when living in remote locations surrounded by water so we’re always delighted to welcome Rousay Community School– especially after the extraordinary effort they make to travel to the pool.
“The lessons are a mixture of abilities and ages, so we split the class. For the younger and non or weak swimmers we would focus on early skills development like breathing, body position in the water, sculling and other practices that will encourage skills in stroke progression.
“The older and stronger swimmers would look at focussing more on their techniques across the range of strokes, looking at areas for improvement where they could practise skills.”
A total of 37 Leisure Trusts and Aquatic Providers provide Learn to Swim lessons in more than 160 pools, with the framework already provided lessons to more than 100,000 youngsters, and wants to reach a further 100,000 by 2025.
Euan Lowe, Chief Executive Officer at Scottish Swimming, said:
“It’s so important for everyone on the islands to have life skills to keep them safe in and around water.
“Swimming is more than just a sport – it’s essential for the health and safety of the nation. We’re delighted to see the Learn to Swim programme working so well in rural communities enabling young people to develop the confidence, skills and a real love of swimming.”
The Framework – which has World Champion swimmers Duncan Scott and Toni Shaw as its Ambassadors – is delivered by 36 Leisure Trusts and Aquatic Providers, across more than 160 pools.
Brian Lironi, Director of Corporate Affairs with Scottish Water, said:
“Scotland is surrounded by water so it’s important that children, from a young age, are competent swimmers.
“The Learn to Swim programme presents an opportunity to create a generation of young Scots who are safe and confident swimmers – it’s fantastic to see that even when pools aren’t always within easy reach, geography is no barrier to learning to swim.”
The Learn to Swim Framework helps to create quality Learn to Swim environments for children from birth upwards where they can become competent swimmers with opportunities to progress through the aquatic pathway and to swim for fun.
The next chapter of Learn to Swim will build a real legacy for Scotland – creating “generation swim” by improving water safety, and, through working with schools and local authorities, giving all children a real platform for success and to achieve their full potential in the pool and out.
For more information on the Learn to Swim programme, visit https://learntoswim.scot/
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